Brain Pickings

The First Poem Published in a Scientific Journal

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An ode to the ocean’s bioluminescent marvels.

We’ve already seen science as a muse of painting, music, sculpture, and design. In 2001, the poetic muse struck Smith College life sciences professor and clock researcher Mary E. Harrington who, smitten by the circadian rhythms of the bioluminescent algae Gonyaulax polyedra, penned a poem about these whimsical organisms. It appeared on the pages of the June 2001 issue of the Journal of Biological Rhythms and is considered the first poem to be published in a strictly scientific journal. (I discovered it through a passing mention in the excellent Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired.)

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If the lazy dinoflagellate
should lay abed
refuse to photosynthesize,
realize:
the clock will not slow

but it will grow fait
    weaker
        weaker

barely whispering at the end
    ”rise”
        ”rise”

to little effect.
The recalcitrant Gonyaulax
arms crossed
snorts
“No longer will
they call my life
(my life!)
‘just hands’.
I am sticking to the sea bed!”

Image courtesy of the J. Woodland Hastings Lab, Harvard University

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